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The Fifth Quarter: Week 7 Rewind

Missouri v Georgia Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Missouri: The Showed You State
Everybody who thought that, after Week 7 of the season, Missouri would be unbeaten and all alone in first place in the SEC East raise your hands.  Now, put ‘em down as all y’all are lying.  Yet that’s exactly where Gary Pinkel‘s Tigers find themselves Sunday morning, sporting a spotless 6-0 record overall and an East-best 2-0 mark in SEC play thanks to their win over Georgia coupled with Florida’s loss to LSU.  Yes, Mizzou’s win came at the expense of the injury-ravaged Bulldogs, but it was huge for the Tigers regardless of the circumstances and how it’s couched as the win over No. 7 UGA was the program’s first against a Top-10 team on the road since dropping No. 9 Mississippi State in October of 1981.  Let’s not pop any SEC East champagne for Mizzou quite yet, however.  The next two weeks — without starting quarterback James Franklin — the Tigers will host Florida and South Carolina in back-to-back games that could very well determine the division’s representative in the SEC championship game.  And, no, I never thought I’d be typing that sentence in relation to Mizzou, especially after a debut season in the SEC that saw the Tigers win just two conference games (Kentucky, Tennessee).

Super Mariota… again
I’m fully aware of the fact that the Heisman is not handed out in the middle of October, but, dayum.  In six games this season, Marcus Mariota has thrown for 17 touchdowns, ran for another eight… and has thrown zero interceptions in 165 attempts.  And, as if tossing down the stiff-armed gauntlet, Mariota went out Saturday and had his finest performance of the season, all things considered.  Against a Washington defense that came into the game with Oregon ranked No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency defense, Mariota carved said defense to the tune of 24-of-31 passing for 366 yards and three touchdowns.  For good measure, he added 88 yards rushing and another score.  Again, they don’t hand out the Heisman at this time of the year.  The award does, though, have a front-runner and Mariota is decidedly that.

Texas-sized Big 12 leader
It goes without saying that Texas’ 16-point beatdown of Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout qualifies as a stunner, what with the Longhorns having lost the last two rivalry games by a combined total of 80 points… and how they’ve been mired in mediocrity the past few years… and how Mack Brown‘s tenure is seemingly coming to a close.  It’s when you step back and look at the bigger picture, though, that you get the biggest jolt.  The Longhorns are currently one of three Big 12 teams with no losses in conference play, and are tied atop the standings at 3-0 with Texas Tech.  Baylor, which looked unstoppable against the lightweights on its schedule, was positively beatable on the road against Kansas State in its first real test of the season, although the Bears survived to remain that third unbeaten Big 12 team at 2-0.  Did the Longhorns save their season — and Brown’s job — Saturday?  It’s still too early to tell, especially with games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor to close out the regular season still looming.  For now, though, the Golden Hat — and control of its own destiny in the Big 12’s race to the BCS — resides in Austin.

A Mannion’s man
Were it not for a three-point season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, Oregon State would very likely be a Twp-20 team at the moment.  And Sean Mannion might be getting the respect nationally he deserves.  Entering the game against Washington State Saturday night, the Beavers quarterback led the nation in passing yards per game (403.6) and passing touchdowns (21) through five games.  In his sixth game, Mannion did nothing but elevate his standing in both of those categories.  In helping OSU push its record to 5-1, Mannion passed for a season-high 493 yards and added four more touchdown passes as the Beavers cruised to a 52-24 win over Wazzu.  OSU, and thus Mannion, have yet to face a high-profile opponent, which has in large part led to the lack of recognition outside of Corvallis.  With games against Stanford (Oct. 26), Washington (Nov. 23) and the Civil War with Oregon (Nov. 29), Mannion will have plenty of opportunity to state his case nationally.  Provided he can rise to that level of competition, of course.

Brian FantanaBOB’s Big Ones
Bill O’Brien had already seen four missed field goals from the end of regulation through the first three overtimes against Michigan, including one off the foot of his own kicker.  Down by three and facing a fourth and one, O’Brien eschewed the field goal attempt that would’ve sent the game into a fifth overtime and instead grabbed his James Westfall and Doctor Kenneth Noisewater.  A Bill Belton three-yard run got the first down and, four plays later, Belton scooted across from two yards out to knock the Wolverines from the ranks of the unbeatens.  O’Brien should be applauded for both having the guts to make that call at that juncture and for his awareness of the energy that had been expended by his Nittany Lions creating a need to not extend the game.

Rebounding with a vengeance
Just 10 days ago, Travis Wilson had a six-pack of picks that was largely responsible for Utah’s seven-point loss to No. 11 UCLA.  Against No. 5 Stanford, the Utes quarterback went out and totally redeemed himself.  While he threw another interception, Wilson was otherwise outstanding, completing 23-of-34 passes for 234 yards and a pair of critical first-quarter touchdowns that put the unbeaten Cardinal on notice… and helped drop them from undefeated and controlling their own destiny to one of the myriad one-loss teams that will need help getting back in the national title hunt.  Redemption is an awe-inspiring thing, especially when it’s a college kid on the receiving end one game later against one of the best teams in the country.

Riding the Green Wave
Coming off a disastrous two-win 2012 season, there were some calling for the head of head coach Curtis Johnson after just one year at Tulane.  Nearly a year later, those same people are very likely singing Johnson’s praises.  You see, the Green Wave has won five of its first seven games this season, including a thrilling triple-overtime win over East Carolina Saturday evening.  It’s the first time since 2004 that Tulane has won more than four games in a single season, and the Green Wave still has five games remaining to win one game and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2002.  On top of all of that, Tulane is tied for the Conference USA West lead with Rice.  The individuals wanting Johnson gone last year may get their wish 12 months late; thanks to Tulane’s play, Johnson’s name will likely come up for various vacancies across the country in the coming months.

Army strongTerry Baggett , Donald Coleman
Yeah, I’ll go ahead and say it: Terry Baggett does more before 3 p.m. than most running backs do all season.  Or something like that.  In the Black Knights’ 50-25 win over Eastern Michigan, the junior rushed for 304 yards on just 18 carries and added four scores on the ground for good measure.  Baggett came into the matchup with 440 yards and two touchdowns in the first six games of the season.  The 304 yards are an academy record, part of which came on a 96-yard touchdown run.  In closing, go Baggett and go ‘Merica…

LOSERS

Nov. 7
That day on the football calendar was shaping up to be arguably the best and most important Thursday in college football history.  Oregon at Stanford and Oklahoma at Baylor had most prognosticators pointing to it during the preseason as the day where the chase for the BCS would really begin to take shape.  Now?  Not so much thanks to Oklahoma’s blowout loss to Texas and Stanford’s stunning loss on the road to Utah.  Those games will still be important, especially as it pertains to the respective conference races, but it has certainly lost a lot of luster as far as the national stage is concerned because of Saturday’s events.

Bears are human after all
Through the first four games of its season, Baylor was the darling of the national media.  Averaging a nation’s best 781 yards per game (Oregon was next at 630) and scoring 70-plus points a contest, the Bears were the shiny thing dangled in front of a giddy toddler.  Of course, those gaudy stats came against Wofford, Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia.  In their first real test of the season against Kansas State?  The gaudy numbers dissipated, but the winning didn’t.  The Bears were held to season-lows in total offense (445 yards), rushing (114) and points (35), but still managed to go into always-tough Manhattan and escape back to Waco with a 10-point conference win over the Wildcats.  The Bears may have been exposed, and K-State may have provided a blueprint for future Big 12 opponents to at least slow down the high-powered attack, but they showed a resiliency they haven’t needed all season long.  And that might be more impressive than any of the video game-like numbers they had put up through the first one-third of the regular season.

South Carolina v ArkansasKarma indeed
Very shortly after Wisconsin’s controversial loss to Arizona State in mid-September, Jen Bielema, the wife of former UW and current Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, tweeted “#karma” in the general direction of the Badgers and their fans.  While I’m certain it’s merely coincidence — or the “k” word — the Razorbacks, after winning their first three games pre-tweet, have now lost four straight since Mrs. Bielema typed out the five-letter word and sent it hurtling out into the Twittersphere.  Punctuating the losing streak was Saturday’s humbling 45-point loss to South Carolina, the third straight SEC loss for Bielema by a combined total of 77 points.  Strong with this one, the karma is.

The Lane Kiffin Error Era
If you wanted to sum up Lane Kiffin‘s time at USC, these five words would just about do it: “The players have hope now.”  Those were the words of USC athletic director Pat Haden, and they came shortly after the Trojans upended Arizona in the USC interim debut of Ed Orgeron.  It was far from pretty, but there was an exuberance, an excitement that had been lacking for years under Kiffin and, to be honest, under the weight of NCAA sanctions.  Pulling the plug on Kiffin’s tenure as head coach was seen as a necessary move.  And, as it turns out, it was a refreshing one for the entire program as well. “You should have been in the locker room before the game, I’ve never seen anything like it. Guys were having a blast,” Haden, again, said afterwards.  The win was one thing; the words coming from those in and around the football program were a damning indictment of everything that’s gone in in the Land of Troy the past three-plus seasons, even if it did humble the Arrogant One.

Airror Force
The Air Force football program has officially hit rock bottom.  Leading San Diego State by 14 with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter Thursday night, the Falcons gave up 21 straight points in a 10-minute span to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat.  The service academy is now 1-6, its worst start since going 1-6 to begin the 1993 season.  With an Oct. 26 game against Notre Dame on the horizon, the Falcons could very well be staring in the face of their worst start to a season since going 1-6-1 in 1980.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 3 Clemson 24, Boston College 14: The Tigers needed 14 fourth-quarter points to avoid an infamous Clemsoning.  We’ll just chalk this up to looking ahead to the titanic matchup with Florida State next weekend and move on.

– No. 8 Louisville 24, Rutgers 10: Thanks to a pillowy soft schedule, the Cardinals need to take its opponents to the woodshed each and every time they step on the field.  That didn’t happen Thursday night, which has caused some to already write off the UofL’s BCS title game hopes.  While that’s debatable, the Cardinals will likely see themselves lose ground in the polls again this week.

Texas A&M v Mississippi– No. 9 Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38: In a wildly entertaining game, the Aggies needed a field goal as time expired to stay unbeaten on the road under Kevin Sumlin.  Of course, the win was due in large part to Johnny Football, who totaled 470 yards of total offense (346 passing, 124 rushing) in a performance that will keep him in the Heisman repeat mix.  That defense, though, is still an area of major concern and will likely bite the Aggies again at some point before the regular season ends.

– No. 15 Baylor 35, Kansas State 25: The Bears needed a real test and, after a hiccup up or two that nearly cost them an unblemished record.  the Waco Kids earned a passing grade.

– No. 20 Texas Tech 42, Iowa State 35:  The Red Raiders muddled through the first three quarters against the one-win Cyclones, tied at halftime and leading by just a touchdown entering the fourth.  Tech did, though, become the first bowl-eligible team in the Big 12 so they have that going for them, which is good.

– No. 23 Northern Illinois 27, Akron 20:  Hey, the one-win Zips nearly knocked off Michigan in the Big House earlier this year.  It happens.

– No. 24 Virginia Tech 19, Pittsburgh 9: I’m putting this game here solely to highlight the Hokies’ defense as Tech allowed the Panthers just 23 yards rushing on 26 carries.  All told, Pitt was only able to must 210 yards of offense against a team that’s quietly ripped off six straight wins since its 25-point loss to Alabama to open the season.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — After a scoreless first quarter against Kentucky, I very nearly dropped the Tide below Oregon.  Then the second quarter and on happened and my goodness did the Tide roll, putting up 668 yards of offense and 48 points in a 41-point throttling of the Wildcats. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Arkansas

Oregon v Washington2. Oregon — Even with Alabama rolling (eventually) against a below-average Kentucky team, I was still (very) tempted to allow the Ducks to leapfrog the consensus No. 1 team in the country thanks to the virtuoso performance against arguably the best two-loss team in the country in Washington.  I couldn’t pull the trigger this week, but can’t promise a repeat if the Ducks continue mowing down the competition. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: vs. Washington State

3. Clemson — Despite eking by a very average Boston College team in Clemson’s version of Death Valley, the Tigers are still a very good football team.  Get a huge win over you-know-how Saturday, and they’ll elbow themselves right into the Alabama-Oregon mix. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 6 Florida State

4. Ohio State — The Buckeyes were on a bye, and may benefit somewhat in the polls thanks to Clemson’s sleepwalk against BC.  Northwestern getting throttled by Wisconsin and Michigan losing to Penn State, however, is very bad long-term for OSU. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. Iowa

5. Florida State — The Cardinal’s loss is the Seminoles’ gain.  A bye week for FSU allowed them to heal up for its Game of the Century against you-know-who Saturday. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at No. 3 Clemson

(Dropped from the rankings: No. 5 Stanford)

HE SAID IT
“I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that.” — Steve Spurrier, after South Carolina went into Fayetteville and spanked the Razorbacks 52-7.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“We sit back and let y’all bash us and bash our coaches. … There comes a time when you put a chip on your shoulder.” — Texas quarterback Case McCoy.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I’m looking forward to the next 30 minutes, because the first 30 minutes sucked.” — Pat Fitzgerald, after watching Northwestern fall behind Wisconsin 21-6 in the first half.  The next 30 minutes weren’t much better for the Wildcats as the final score ended up 35-6.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“Yeah, playing your ass off.” — Texas co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite, when asked if an offensive identity had emerged for the Longhorns.

HE SAID IT, LES MILES EDITION
[See extended version below]

PHOTO OF THE WEEK
As a huge fan of NASCAR, count me among those who were absolutely thrilled with the reports that a future Tennessee-Virginia Tech game will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Having been to that short track — the August night race should be on any sports fan’s bucket list — I can see exactly how and why both the track and the schools would want to play in the modern-day motorized Colosseum.  Have you wondered, though, what it will look like?  Thanks to @NeylandStadium, we have a little perspective:

Bristol Neyland

That, folks, is Neyland Stadium sitting inside the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.  And that, folks, is freaking spectacular, even as I understand that some/most of the sight lines and vantage points won’t be optimal compared to playing in a stadium designed for football.

That said, I absolutely cannot wait to see — and possibly be a part of — that atmosphere.

Oh, and before you ask, no, ball carriers won’t be allowed to only make cuts to the left in that game.

SAY WHAT?
For the first time in the football program’s storied history, Alabama had a 300-yard passer (AJ McCarron‘s career-high 359 yards) and two 100-yard rushers (T.J. Yeldon, 16-124-2; Kenyan Drake, 14-106-2) in the same game.

TRUE STORY
From the Clemson Sports Information Department: Clemson’s defense held the nation’s leading rusher in Andre Williams to just 70 yards rushing and a 2.9 yards-per-carry average. He had entered the game averaging 153.6 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– Thanks to losses by Michigan, Oklahoma and Stanford, there are now 14 teams at the FBS level with no losses this season.  The ACC has the most unbeatens at this juncture with three (Clemson, Florida State and Miami), while the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC have two apiece.  On the flip side, and with UMass dropping still winless Miami (Ohio), there are eight teams remaining who have yet to win a game in 2013.  Two of the Unfortunate Octet reside in the American Athletic Conference.

Boston College v Clemson– Clemson’s Tajh Boyd threw for 334 yards in the close win over Boston College to become the all-time leader in passing yards in Clemson history with 9,836 yards. He also moved in to fourth place in ACC history in the same category and into second place in carer 300-yard passing games (14).

Brett Hundley passed for 409 yards and three touchdowns to help unbeaten UCLA to a 37-10 win over Cal.

– Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery accounted for 296 all-purpose yards: 160 on kickoff returns, 131 receiving and five rushing.

– Jonathan Gray rushed for 123 yards and Malcolm Brown for 120 in Texas’ win over Oklahoma; it marked the first time UT has seen two players go over the century mark against OU.

– Washington’s Bishop Sankey, who entered the game fourth nationally in rushing yards per game at 146.4, rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Oregon.

– Louisiana Monroe’s Isaiah Newsome became just the second player in Sun Belt Conference history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. The senior also broke the SBC record for interception return yardage in a single game with 146.

– Playing in place of the injured Baker MayfieldDavis Webb threw for 415 yards and three TDs in leading Texas Tech over Iowa State 42-35.

David Fales passed for 431 yards and three touchdowns in San Jose State’s 34-27 win over Colorado State.

– Coming off a concussion, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage was sacked eight times in the loss to Virginia Tech.

– Utah’s win over No. 5 Stanford was the Utes’ first-ever over a team that entered the game ranked in the Top Five.  It was also the program’s first win over a team in the Top 10 since 1973.

– Florida extended its streak of holding SEC opponents under 20 points to 13 straight games against LSU, the longest in the conference.  Unfortunately, while the Gators held the Tigers to 17, they were held to six in the loss.

– Very enlightening stat from Jon Solomon of al.com: the past 14 games, Auburn has started five different quarterbacks.  Alabama has started three different quarterbacks the past 80 games.  Speaking of the Tigers…

– Auburn rolled up a school-record 712 yards of total offense in the Tigers’ 62-3 win over FCS-level Western Carolina.  Included in that total was 511 yards rushing on 43 carries, with nine different players credited with carries.

– Michigan State came into its game against Indiana as the No. 1 rush defense in the country, giving up an average of 51.2 yards per game; on the fourth play from scrimmage, the Hoosiers’ Tevin Coleman raced 64 yards right up the gut for a touchdown.  The rest of the game, however, the Spartans allowed just 28 yards on 26 carries in the 42-28 win.

– USF hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown the last two games… and have won both of those contests.  They are the first team ever at the FBS level to pull that trick in back-to-back weeks.

– Northern Illinois has now won 23 straight games at home, the longest such streak in the country.

– In a shout-out to the FCS, Fordham is 6-0 for the first time in a staggering 83 years.

IN CLOSING…
Les Miles
has, how shall we say it, a very unique and special relationship with the English language.  As the latest — and one of the best — example of that relationship, we leave you with the following transcript courtesy of CoachingSearch.com — the video’s HERE — in which Miles responds to a reporter stating that Florida was the hammer and LSU was the nail last season, with the roles being reversed this year.  Enjoy, and good night y’all:

“I’ve got a question for you. It was a 14-6 game. We played our asses off. How anybody could pick the hammer and the nail, when in fact, that hammer or nail, we catch a ball down there, we’re fixing to take the lead, and we turn it over. Explain to me how Kevin Minter, who set the damn near career tackle record in that game, how anybody could say hammer and nail?

“I can tell you right now, here’s what happens: Two very quality teams take the field and compete like a son of a bitch for victory. You know what? It’s not a hammer and a nail relationship. It’s an opportunity for an opponent to be equal and to raise their level of play in such a fashion that they win. That’s how this thing works. In fact, you respect the opponent. He’s not the hammer and he’s not the frickin’ nail, OK? He’s the opponent. You understand?

“I’m just letting you know, I resent that. I resent the fact that suddenly, we were nail, you got it? Honest to Pete. We were a pretty good team last year. I thought we played like a son of a bitch in that stadium. I’m just letting you know, I felt differently than the nail, so you know.”

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NCAA denies Dorial Green-Beckham’s appeal

Dorial Green-Beckham

The fate of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has been decided by the NCAA.

Green-Beckham transferred to Oklahoma in July after Missouri dismissed the talented receiver due to multiple off-the-field incidents. Oklahoma filed an appeal on Green-Beckham’s behalf last week. The NCAA officially denied the appeal Friday.

Oklahoma released a statement after the NCAA announced its decision:

“The University of Oklahoma has learned that the waiver request it entered on behalf of Dorial Green-Beckham has been denied by the NCAA. The University accepts that decision and will continue to provide the appropriate assistance to Dorial, just as it does with other students, in helping him grow personally from the many opportunities available to him at OU.”

Of course the University “accepts that decision.” It shouldn’t even be surprised by the outcome due to recent incidents with other members of its football team.

The tipping point for Green-Beckham at Missouri was an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

It’s the type of incident the University of Oklahoma publicly stated “takes very seriously its obligation in cases like this…”

The school suspended its leading tackler, Frank Shannon, for the season after sexual assault allegations.  The school did the same to running back Joe Mixon after he allegedly punched a woman in the face and caused four broken bones.

If the Sooners found a loophole — in this case, the run off rule — to allow Green-Beckham to play this season, the school’s actions would have been seen as highly hypocritical. Instead, all three players won’t be allowed to play during the upcoming campaign.

Make no mistake about it — the Sooners were hopeful Green-Beckham could play this season. He’s mega-talent at wide receiver. Instead, the team will have to rely heavily on Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods.

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Maryland’s leading receiver, senior linebacker arrested

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - Marshall v Maryland

The Maryland Terrapins may be without the team’s leading receiver from last season and a major contributor on special teams for an undetermined amount of time.

Junior wide receiver Levern Jacobs and senior linebacker Alex Twine were arrested Thursday on charges of second-degree assault. The original charges stem from an April 19 incident.

“We are aware of the situation and are in the process of gathering more information” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall told the Baltimore Sun‘s Matt Zentiz. “We take these matters very seriously. We will have no further comment at this time.”

Last season, Jacobs led the team with 47 receptions for 640 yards. Although, Jacobs wasn’t expected to start for the Terrapins this season due to Maryland’s depth at wide receiver.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do at the receiver position,” Edsall told InsideMDSports.com’s Josh Stirn at the start of fall camp. “We’ve got to step it up a bit. We’re not looking for receivers that can just catch the ball around here. This isn’t flag football. This isn’t a 7 on 7. We’ve got to have complete receivers. We’ve got to get our receivers to do that and our receivers have got to make sure that they listen to Keenan [McCardell] and do exactly what they ask them to do. If they do that with the talent they have, they can be very good. But we’re not there yet and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Jacobs current predicament will create more opportunities for his younger brother, Tavion Jacobs, who impressed the coaching staff this summer.

Twine, meanwhile, made 12 starts and played in 34 games since becoming a member of the Terrapins. Twine provides critical depth at linebacker while serving as Maryland’s special teams ace.

Due to Edsall’s reaction to the their arrests, both will likely face suspensions from the team.

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Five-star RB plans to stay at Oklahoma

Photo credit: Rivals

Joe Mixon isn’t leaving the University of Oklahoma.

Mixon was suspended from all football activities for a year Monday after the Cleveland County (Oklahoma) District Attorney’s office charged him with one misdemeanor count of an act resulting in gross injury.

The running back maintains his innocence in the matter, and the automatic question asked was whether or not he would remain at the school after its decision.

Mixon emphatically answered the question via twitter.

As part of the suspension, Mixon will not be allowed to participate in team activities and he will be excluded from the team’s roster. But Mixon can remain a student at the university and eligible for financial aid under the “appropriate conditions.”

Mixon’s presence would have been a boost to this year’s backfield. The Sooners, however, are not devoid of talent at running back. Sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross will be relied upon this fall, and Mixon will join the team’s stable of running backs in 2015.

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Ohio State’s plan to replace QB Braxton Miller

Urban Meyer

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is the answer to nearly every football question posed in today’s game.

Who did New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick consult to make his team more efficient during practice? Chip Kelly. How did the Oregon Ducks go from a unique team with flashy uniforms to a national title contender? Chip Kelly. Who is turning the NFL upside down with how he approaches every aspect of the game? Chip Kelly.

We could go on and on, but we won’t.

When Ohio State lost Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller for the season after re-injuring his throwing shoulder, head coach Urban Meyer was forced to reconsider his options on offense. The answer was simple. Chip Kelly.

Meyer has always been at the forefront of offensive innovation with his spread offense, but his goal is to be more like Kelly this season.

According to SI.com, the Buckeyes’ staff and players are often overheard saying, “We want to be the Philadelphia Eagles of college football.”

When asked directly whether or not Meyer will increase the team’s offensive tempo, the coach remained noncommittal.

“That’s a good question,” Meyer told SI.com. “That’s also to be determined. We’re prepared more than in the last two years. It’s the third year in the system.”

Traditional thinking says playing fast means an athlete is not thinking about what he’s doing. He’s just reacting. The Buckeyes operating at a faster pace with redshirt freshmen J.T. Barrett at quarterback instead of Miller would seem to be counterintuitive. That’s not actually the case.

While a faster tempo requires quicker decisions from the quarterback position, it also simplifies his reads and wears down defenses that can’t substitute and forces them into basic schemes.

Barrett has yet to be officially named the team’s starter, but he worked his way to No. 2 on the depth chart prior to Miller re-injuring his shoulder. Barrett he may be the perfect quarterback to play in this style of offense even if he’s not as physically talented as Miller.

“The best quarterbacks are great distributors, and I watch Peyton Manning and I’m in awe of the way he distributes the ball,” Meyer told ESPN.com‘s Austin Ward. “I thought (former Ohio State quarterback) Kenny Guiton was one of the best I’ve been around as far as getting the ball out quickly and distributing to playmakers and letting them run with the ball, let them make plays. That’s what my initial evaluation of J.T. is, he’s very good at that.”

Meyer should be able to devise an offense to get the ball out of Barrett’s hand quickly and allow the play makers around the quarterback to take over the game.

“In my 10 years here, this is the most explosive offensive talent, depth wise, that we’ve ever had,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told SI.com. “The 2006 team had a lot of offensive weapons. But depth wise, you just have to get the ball to the players and get out of the way.”

Kelly would certainly approve of this approach.

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ACC coach: Half league’s teams don’t have player that can start for FSU

Jimbo Fisher

How talented is Florida State’s team?

It’s talented enough to help build an inferiority complex around the rest of the ACC.

“According to one ACC coach, FSU is so stocked with talent across its depth chart that he believes about half the league’s teams do not have one player who would start for Florida State this year based on what he’s seen on film,” Bruce Feldman and Pete Thamel of FoxSports.com reported.

The Seminoles are absolutely loaded on both sides of the football. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Jameis Winston, is back for his redshirt sophomore season. The team also returns eight players named to one of the All-ACC teams in 2013. And the 11 starters Florida State has to replace from last year’s squad will be filled with former highly-touted recruits that simply need an opportunity to showcase their talent.

The unnamed coach was right about half the league. A quick look at the preseason All-ACC team proves his point. Players from seven teams other than Florida State were bestowed with the honor.

Teams that didn’t have a representative were the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Pittsburgh Panthers, Virginia Cavaliers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Arguments could be made for Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd, North Carolina linebacker Norkeithus Otis, Virginia safety Anthony Harris and Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson but the coach’s point still stands.

The underlying theme of the comment is simple. Florida State will be favored to win every game it plays this season, and only one or two teams in the ACC even have a chance to upset the Seminoles as they attempt a second run to the national championship game.

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Brady Hoke: ‘I feel terrible for Braxton Miller’

Ohio State v Michigan Getty Images

I don’t know that I’ve ever done this before — well, maybe once or twice — but I’m going to utilize a reader’s comment in a post.  Specifically, an unnamed reader’s comment in the post from yesterday on Mark Dantonio‘s reaction to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller‘s season-ending shoulder injury:

The real question would be Hoke’s reaction to this. I’m sure he wouldn’t take the high road about the injury.

Of course, that was, even for one of our readers, an absurd assumption to make. Head coaches simply don’t and wouldn’t do that, especially publicly.  In fact, in my experience, the vast majority of coaches care about players and their well-being whether they’re on their own team or on the opposing sideline.

Case in point? The object of the commenter’s attempted barb, Brady Hoke.

“I feel terrible for Braxton Miller and his family,” the Michigan head coach said during a radio interview Friday morning by way of mlive.com. “He’s been a class act any time I’ve been around him.

You never want a kid to get hurt.”

In other words, Hoke is a human being and reacted the exact way everyone — well, most everyone — thought he would: with class and genuine empathy.  One of the greatest rivalries on the field, The Game more times than not gives way to humanity off of it.

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Syracuse’s starting TE out for up to a month

Syracuse v Maryland

At least now there’s some sort of timeline for the return of a key piece of Syracuse’s offensive puzzle, even if it is a little vague.

Earlier this week, head coach Scott Shafer confirmed that starting tight end Josh Parris will be sidelined for a period of 2-4 weeks.  Parris underwent surgery Wednesday to repair what was only described as a lower-body injury.

At bare minimum, Parris will miss the opener against Villanova (Aug. 29).  The earliest Parris will return is the next game against Central Michigan (Sept. 13), although that falls within the long end of the timeline.  The Sept. 20 game against Maryland would appear to be a safe bet for a return if he hasn’t already.

Parris caught 13 passes for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2013. The 6-2, 252-pound redshirt sophomore would’ve entered the 2014 season as the Orange’s starting tight end.

Instead, some combination of sophomore Kendall Moore, freshman Jamal Custis and redshirt freshman Tyler Provo will attempt to hold down the job during Parris’ absence.

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UW Huskies to go with Jeff Lindquist at QB in opener

Boise State v Washington Getty Images

With Cyler Miles suspended for the opener, Washington knew it would go with someone other than the offseason favorite for the job in the first game of the year.  Now, we officially know the identity of that someone.

According to head coach Chris Petersen, sophomore Jeff Lindquist will get the nod at quarterback for the Aug. 30 season opener against Hawaii.  Petersen opted for Lindquist over redshirt freshman Troy Williams.

According to Petersen, fewer mistakes from Lindquist compared to his compatriot was the biggest factor in the decision.  Neither of the two main players for what’s expected to be a temporary assignment has thrown a pass at the collegiate level.

Petersen did add that Miles will be a factor for the job once he serves the suspension.

Miles was allegedly involved in a pair of assaults in early February, suspended from the team but never charged.  He was reinstated in mid-May, prior to his one-game suspension being announced two months later.

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Report: McEvoy, not Stave, to start for Badgers vs. LSU

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This one probably qualifies as the biggest surprise in all of the quarterback competitions waged throughout various summer camps this month.

Citing three sources, Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that Tanner McEvoy will start at quarterback in Wisconsin’s season opener against LSU in Houston.  McEvoy and the incumbent, Joel Stave, have been fighting for the starting job throughout spring practice and on into camp.

Stave started all 13 games for the Badgers last season, while the 6-6, 222-pound McEvoy was moved to safety — played in 10 games, started three — before returning to quarterback in the spring.  Stave is the dictionary-definition of a pocket-passer, while McEvoy possess the ability to beat a team with both his arm and his legs.  It was likely that dual-threat ability that played a significant role in the reported decision.

If the report comes to fruition — UW coaches have been very tight-lipped about the starter and don’t plan on announcing one prior to the opener — it would continue what’s been a very strange football odyssey for McEvoy.

In early August of 2012, South Carolina announced that McEvoy had decided to transfer from the Gamecocks.  The announcement came a week or so after the player was arrested on alcohol-related charges.

After spending the 2012 season at the JUCO level, McEvoy signed with Wisconsin in February of 2013.  Prior to being moved to the other side of the ball, McEvoy was the victim of an on-campus mugging last July.

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 7 South Carolina

Steve Spurrier

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC (2nd in SEC East)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin (34-24 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 4/No. 4
Head coach: Steve Spurrier (219-79-2 overall; 77-39 in nine years at South Carolina)
Offensive coordinator: Steve Spurrier Jr. (third season as co-coordinator); Shawn Elliott (third season as co-coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 32nd rushing offense (198.5 ypg); 40th passing offense (253.8 ypg); 36th total offense (452.3 ypg); 32nd scoring offense (34.1 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Lorenzo Ward (third season)
2013 defensive rankings: 50th rushing defense (153.8 ypg); 12th passing defense (196.2 ypg); 19th total defense (350 ypg); 12th scoring defense (20.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Six
Location: Columbia, SC
Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250; Grass)
Last conference title: 1969 (ACC)

THE GOOD
Sure, there were a couple of key departures on one of the best defenses in the conference, and the starting quarterback, the winningest of all-time at the school, needs replaced.  That said, this should still be arguably the most talented and deepest squad Spurrier & Company have put on the field since the OBC came to Columbia a decade ago.    Returning are two of the best skill position players in the passing game in the SEC to go along with four starting offensive lineman.  The former will help the new starter under center, while the latter will greatly aid said starter as well as the underrated Mike Davis in the backfield.  The schedule also sets up nicely, with just a pair of what could even remotely be considered formidable road trips: at Auburn and at in-state rival Clemson.  The Gamecocks have owned the ACC Tigers — won five straight — of late, with CU needing to reload at several important positions, so calling that game formidable might be a stretch at this early juncture.

THE BAD
The cornerbacks.  And, actually, that’s way too harsh and not even remotely accurate; the corners aren’t “bad.”  Rather, they’re extremely raw and very inexperienced — only one player at the position has played in a game at the collegiate level.  The good news for the Gamecocks is that they have significant returning experience at both safety positions, which should help as at least two, possibly three, true freshmen will be needed to contribute immediately.  Another negative from the same unit that somewhat relates to the secondary?  USC’s top two pass rushers left for the NFL, meaning any help the young corners could get from a significant pass rush during their transition is somewhat mitigated.  Certainly there’s talent to replace what was lost, but it may take some time..

THE UNKNOWN
With Connor Shaw gone, USC will be breaking in a new first-time full-time starting quarterback.  Dylan Thompson‘s different than a lot of first-time starters, however, as he at least has some experience in that capacity — he’s 3-0 in his career as a starter replacing an injured Shaw and has thrown passes in 20 of the games in which he’s played the past three years.  Still, there’s additional pressure being the everyday, every-down man under center, although Thompson appears to have the kind of poise and personality where the stage won’t even remotely be too big for him.  He won’t have time to ease into that role, either, as USC’s first three games are against Texas A&M, East Carolina (a 10-3 team in 2013) and Georgia.  The good news is that all three of those games are in Columbia, with the first road test coming Sept. 20 against Vanderbilt.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs, Georgia, Sept. 13
As I stated in No. 12 Georgia’s preview, and as both Georgia and South Carolina are expected to be the cream of the crop in the SEC East, it would stand to reason that this game, played the third weekend of the season, could prove to be the SEC title game ticket-puncher for the winning side.  While UGA won last year’s game, USC has owned the series of late by winning the previous three by a combined 42 points.  The fact that the game is in Columbia bodes well for the Gamecocks.  Well, that and the fact that, at least on paper, they’ll be the more talented of the two teams.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Mike Davis
One of the most underrated players in the country at any position, Davis will get the opportunity, especially early on, to carry more of the offensive workload as Thompson establishes his footing as the Gamecocks’ full-time starter for the first time.  While Davis — very quietly — rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season, his work in the passing game (34-352) is an ofttimes overlooked facet that provides an extra dimension for his offense — and another consideration for voters.  If the Gamecocks can have the type of team success they had in 2013 and Davis can increase his production — especially in high-profile games — then come late November and early December he could very well be in the midst of the discussion.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Tulsa hoops player denied opportunity to play football

Pat Swilling Jr., Zach Hanson, Devin Brooks, D'Andre Wright AP

So much for that plan.

In mid-June, Pat Swilling Jr., the son of Georgia Tech and NFL standout Pat Swilling, revealed that he planned to walk-on to the Tulsa football team.  Swilling was no ordinary walk-on, though, as he had recently completed his four years of eligibility as a Golden Hurricane basketball player.  There was the also the suspension that cost him the final 11 games of his collegiate career, a suspension born out of allegations of rape.

Earlier this week, Swilling took to Twitter to explain that the NCAA denied his appeal for a waiver that would’ve permitted him to play football in 2014.

Under normal circumstances, a player in one sport who has not used his redshirt season can use a loophole in NCAA bylaws to play an “extra” season in another sport.  However, Swilling had incomplete grades for the spring semester that have been attributed to the rape investigation.

No charges were ever filed against Swilling, and a protective order that had been issued against him was dropped in April.  However, on Monday, the alleged victim filed a federal lawsuit against the university, with Tulsa World writing that the suit states “TU was negligent and failed to protect a female student’s rights under federal Title IX laws by not properly investigating multiple rape allegations against Swilling.”

Swilling fired back at his accuser in a letter, calling her a “cleat chaser” and denying any type of sexual assault took place.

“I have been verbally abused, harassed, constantly sent harsh things on social media and even received death threats on multiple occasions. While I understand the backlash, your opinions of myself have been created by reading material that portrays me in a negative light. Nothing written has been in my favor and nothing negating my accuser’s stories has been written either.”

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USC RB Tre Madden iffy for opener

Washington State v USC Getty Images

Last year it was a hamstring issue that limited Tre Madden for the last half of the season.  Heading into the 2014 season, it’s an issue a couple of feet south that could limit the running back.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Madden has been dealing with a toe injury he suffered earlier in summer camp.  The Times writes that the injury could make him questionable for the opener against Fresno State a week from Saturday.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian wasn’t prepared to go that far, at least not yet.

“We’re taking every precautionary action we can to make sure that Tre is great and ready to go when his time is called again,” Sarkisian said.

During the first five games last season, Madden rushed for 583 yards and three touchdowns.  The last eight, three of which he didn’t record a carry, Madden totaled just 120 yards and didn’t find the end zone.  His 703 yards were second on the team to the 785 yards for Javorius Allen, who figures to be the Trojans’ bell cow in the running game this year.

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Report: Braxton Miller surgery tentatively slated for Tuesday

Braxton Miller AP

Braxton Miller‘s road to recovery appears to have a semi-official start date.

Citing a source close to the Ohio State quarterback, the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Miller is tentatively scheduled to undergo surgery next Tuesday.  The procedure will be performed by world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla.

Initial reports had the injury labeled as a dislocated shoulder, which later morphed into a torn labrum.  Instead, the Dispatch reports, Miller suffered a partially torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.

The injury, similar to the one he suffered during the Orange Bowl and for which he underwent February surgery, occurred during practice Monday as Miller was making a short throw to the sidelines.  There was no contact on the play.

Head coach Urban Meyer said earlier in the week that a timeline for a return would be 9-12 months, which means Miller could return as early as summer workouts in 2015 or as late as the end of summer camp.  Or, obviously, somewhere in between.

In a statement confirming his injury, Miller stated his intentions are to return to Ohio State next season and play for the Buckeyes.

With Miller out for the season, the Buckeyes are expected to turn to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett under center.  At the very least, Barrett will get the start in the opener against Navy, although backup Cardale Jones is expected to see some action as well.

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Neal Burcham holds off A&M transfer, named SMU’s starter

Central Florida v SMU

The official successor to Garrett Gilbert has been anointed, and it’s just who most expected it to be.

Following practice Thursday, June Jones announced that Neal Burcham has been tapped as SMU’s starting quarterback.  The Mustangs’ quarterback competition technically involved multiple players, but it essentially came down to Burcham and Texas A&M transfer Matt Davis.

“He has been waiting his turn to get in there,” Jones said. “I have been impressed watching him the last couple of years. He’s prepared himself, he’s worked hard. It’s just getting familiar with the offense and knowing where to go with the ball quickly and knowing your reads.”

The redshirt sophomore started the last two games in place of an injured Gilbert last season and went through spring practice, which Davis didn’t take part in, as the No. 1 quarterback. Jones cited Burcham’s experience in the offense as the deciding factor.

Burcham, a three-star member of the Mustangs’ 2012 recruiting class, completed 64-of-106 passes for 556 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in 2013.  Davis isn’t going away anytime soon, however, as the four-star 2012 signee still has three years of eligibility remaining counting this season.

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

Navy v Duke

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the ACC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 14-0; beat Auburn in BCS Championship Game)
It is easy to make the Seminoles the chalk favorite when evaluating the rest of the ACC. Despite losing some key players from a national championship roster, Florida State returns Heisman Trophy winning Jameis Winston and a deep roster that has benefitted and prepared for this moment since the day Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach. The depth is there with loads of quality all around. Karlos Williams should have a big year at running back and Winston’s top targets in the open field will be Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. The defense has a few holes to plug, but that should not be of much concern. Florida State looks to have the top unit or second-best unit in the entire ACC at every position on the field. There is not one game on the 2014 schedule Florida State should not be the favorite in, and they could keep this winning streak going into the playoffs. This team is clearly in College Football Playoff or bust mode with this amount of talent and the level of expectations in Tallahassee. Of all teams around the country, Florida State looks to be the most likely to be able to afford a blip in the loss column and still be invited to the playoff. But who can beat them? Anybody?

2. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl)
The distance between Clemson and Florida State at the top of the Atlantic Division is not as widespread as last season’s meeting might suggest, but it did widen a bit heading into 2014 with the loss of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Having Vic Beasley back on defense is rather nice. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris could have his work cut out for him in 2014 and Clemson could fall behind early if adjustments are not made. Getting to October with a winning record is not exactly a given with road trips to Georgia and Florida State lined up. Clemson should be a better team by the end of the season once they go through some growing pains early on.

3. Louisville (Last year: 12-1; beat Miami in Russell Athletic Bowl as member of AAC)
This Louisville team may be a far cry from the team we saw a year ago, but they could have a better debut season lined up compared to last year’s ACC rookies at Syracuse and Pittsburgh (and they both went to a bowl game and returned home with a win). The question is what does Bobby Petrino to get the Cardinals off on the right foot and can he continue to work some quarterback magic as the Cardinals enter the post-Teddy Bridgewater era? For starters, he feeds Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer on the ground and gets the ball to DeVante Parker through the air. Will Gardner will be the likely heir to Bridgewater’s throne under center, with just 12 pass attempts last season. The defense should be prepared for an adjustment period after returning juts four starters from last season.

4. Syracuse (Last year: 7-6; beat Minnesota in Texas Bowl)
Syracuse turned out to be a nice little surprise last season, but running back Terrell Hunt is no longer a secret. The Orange will let him carry the offense with his legs and his arm once again. If he can cut down on the interceptions and tack on a few more touchdowns through the air he will give defenses a little something extra to think about. With 15 starters back, the Orange look to have a good amount of experience on both sides of the football. They are not at a level ready to compete for a top spot in the division, but Syracuse could make a push for a third place finish if some pieces come together. The Orange have a schedule that could set up for a great start, but a challenging October will see Syracuse go through some rough spots. How they play through it will tell how their season will end.

5. Boston College (Last year: 7-6; lost to Arizona in Advocare V100 Bowl)
Steve Addazio has already breathed new life into this program, but what happens this season could be crucial. Boston College only brings back a handful of players from last season’s 7-6 squad, and they must find a way to replace 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. The primary running duties will likely be handed off to Myles Willis, and quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy from Florida should embrace a fresh opportunity with a head coach who knows all about him. The spring showed Boston College will once again be likely to rely on the running game, but help could be on the way in the passing game with some receivers getting into the mix.

6. North Carolina State (Last year: 3-9)
The 2013 season was a painful one for the Wolfpack, somewhat literally. With a rash of injuries across the roster, NC State hardly got a chance to see what it could do with new head coach Dave Doeren on the sideline. With any luck that should change this season, with 14 starters due to return this season. There is plenty of work to be done on offense and defense in Raleigh, but having a steady quarterback situation with the transfer of Jacoby Brisset from Florida could help.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 4-8)
New head coach Dave Clawson will have to be patient as he takes over a Wake Forest team in need of improvement across the field. The offense has averaged fewer than 19 points per game each of the past two seasons. Can that possibly go one more year? Competing in this division does not make anything easier for the Demon Deacons. They could jump out to a promising start (3-1 is not completely unrealistic), but once ACC play opens it could be a long fall.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. North Carolina (Last year: 7-6; beat Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
The biggest thing going for North Carolina is momentum. After getting off to a rough start in 2013 (1-5), the Tar Heels kicked things in gear and ended the season winning six of the final seven games of the year, including a bowl victory. Larry Fedora finally seems to have things in order for a potential run to a division title, and he does so with 15 starters coming back this season. Marquise Williams will keep the dual-threat going for the Tar Heels after leading the team in rushing in 2013 and second to Bryn Renner in passing, but getting running back TJ Logan more involved should be in the plans. North Carolina may be a little in development on the defensive line, but the linebackers and secondary are in really good shape this fall.

2. Miami (Last year: 9-4; lost to Louisville in Russell Athletic Bowl)

It is hard to believe but Miami is entering its 11th season as a member of the ACC and is still searching for a trip to the ACC Championship Game. Could this finally be the year for the Hurricanes? Al Golden certainly has a running back to lead his offense there with Duke Johnson and the defense did put up some better numbers in 2013 compared to 2012 by knocking off roughly four points and 60 yards per game. And for the first time in a while Miami posted back-to-back seasons with a positive turnover margin. Want more? The offense has increased its average scoring each season Golden has been in Miami. Yet, they can’t seem to take a firm grasp on the Coastal Division. Why? Inconsistent play. Miami will be challenged early with road games at Louisville and Nebraska and a home date against Arkansas State is no guarantee. Miami also catches Florida State on the schedule, which could hurt their chances in the division race when other possible contenders skip FSU (and Clemson).

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 8-5; lost to UCLA in Sun Bowl)
Virginia Tech returns nine starters on offense, but the Hokies break in a new starting quarterback. Fortunately, transfer Michael Brewer is not without experience and could be ready to step right into action in Blacksburg. The offensive line has just one hold to fill as well, so stability and uniformity should not be a concern. Virginia Tech’s biggest concern will just be scoring points after averaging just 22.5 points per game last season. And that’s the catch. Virginia Tech only allowed 19.3 points per game last season, so the Hokies probably should have won more than eight games. There is a chance to get off to a good start too, because the road trip at Ohio State looks much more manageable now with Braxton Miller out for the season.

4. Pittsburgh (Last year: 7-6; beat Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl)
Pittsburgh loses a monster on the defensive line with Aaron Donald now in the NFL, and the secondary is extremely thin in light of some offseason news, so to say the defense is a concern is putting it nicely for the Panthers. The Panthers also allowed more points per game than they scored, which tends to be a rarity for a team with a winning record.  If the defense can clamp down just a bit more, Pittsburgh could easily play their way to a Coastal title, although they will win ugly at times. Pittsburgh has young receiver Tyler Boyd, already one of the top receivers in the ACC, and a steady running stable of James Conner and Isaac Bennett. The schedule is also extremely favorable for Pittsburgh, with no Florida State or Clemson and home games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke.

5. Duke (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas A&M in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Let us not attempt to take anything away from the great work done in Durham by David Cutcliffe and his Blue Devils the last two seasons. Duke going to back-to-back bowl games was something that could once only be dreamed of. Can they get back to the postseason for a third straight year? Absolutely, but will the rest of the division and the typical football powers rebound a little to block a return trip to the ACC Championship? Duke was set to return 14 starters, but injuries have already taken a toll with an ACL tear to All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown and another to tight end Braxton Deaver. On top of that, Duke lost quarterback Brandon Connette to a transfer to Fresno State. All is not lost though. Duke still has receiver Jamison Crowder, one of the best in the ACC, and the schedule avoids Florida State and Clemson once again. No school in the country will have an easier October either.

6. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-6; lost to Mississippi in Music City Bowl)
Georgia Tech’s strategy will be the same as it has always been under head coach Paul Johnson; Run, run, option run. Will the Yellow Jackets be able to use that offensive style effectively enough to take the heat off of Johnson? The depth on offense is not great, although six starters return from 2013. One starter not back this season is quarterback Vad Lee, who decided to transfer this offseason. That opens the door for sophomore Justin Thomas under center, and he played sparingly last season. The big concern will be the defense. Georgia Tech allowed just 22.8 points per game last season, the lowest average since 2008, but just four starters return for the new year. Georgia Tech may still have enough to make a run at the wide-open Coastal Division (avoiding Florida State on the schedule helps, and they get Clemson at home).

7. Virginia (Last year: 2-10)
If there is one coach that is latched into the hot seat in the ACC, it may just be Virginia’s Mike London. The head coach of the Cavaliers. Virginia lost their top offensive player in tight end Jake McGee (he went to Florida), so the need for returning players to step up in 2014 cannot be overstated. Virginia does return eight starters on offense, with a handful of young players scattered throughout. Running back Kevin Parks should be the focus of the offense after a 1,000-yard season with 11 touchdowns. The defense returns nine starters from 2013, and the hope is playing experience last season will help slow down a trend in allowing more points per game each of the past three seasons. The defense was gashed for 404 yards per game last season, the highest per-game average dating back to 2007. One positive might be the number of sacks (28) was the highest sack total for Virginia since recording 29 in 2008. But Virginia has a long way to go to improve on two wins from last season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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